Pakistan to quadruple carbon emissions despite feeling pain of climate change

| 24th July 2017
Starving women and children wait to be transported in a chinook helicopter during the 2010 heat wave in Pakistan, Pakistan Humanitarian Aid, Flickr.
As economic growth in Pakistan surges forward, and its emissions are set to soar, are the implications for climate change being forgotten, asks ANAM ZEB
Between 1994 and 2015, the country’s carbon emissions grew 123 percent.

When it comes to climate change, Pakistan’s stance has unequivocally been that of a country which is suffering the impacts but has not been responsible for the causes. 

This is a classic case of, ‘we didn’t do it, so we aren't responsible’. The country's national and international policies are focused on adaptation to the impacts of climate change, which it is already facing.

The preamble of the ‘Nationally Determined Contribution’ (NDC), Pakistan's pledge of emissions reduction submitted to the UNFCCC last year, states: "Despite Pakistan’s diminutive contribution to global GHG emissions, it is among the top ten most climate-affected countries of the world, as indicated by the Global Climate Risk Index developed by Germanwatch."

This is echoed in Pakistan’s Climate Change Bill, passed in 2016, which states: "Pakistan's per capita emissions of greenhouse gases today is one of the lowest in the world. Yet it ranks amongst the top ten countries most affected by climate change during the last twenty years."

And the theme continues through the media of Pakistan, which also regularly report on how Pakistan is the worlds "7th most vulnerable country to the impacts of climate change". 

And its true: Pakistan is not only prone to extreme weather events, such as floods, droughts, or even the heatwave in Karachi in 2015 that killed up to 1,000 people, but also slow onset impacts such as glacier melt, rising temperatures, sea level rise and soil erosion, among others.

At the same time, as Pakistan has developed, its carbon emissions have grown. Between 1994 and 2015, the country’s carbon emissions grew 123 percent.

And as the country continues to push forward with economic development, under its Vision 2025 strategy and the CPEC, the prime minister recently reiterated the goal of becoming one of the top 20 economies of the world by 2025.

To achieve this economic growth, there will be a focus on the energy and transport sectors, which already account for a sizeable amount of Pakistan's emissions.

In a recent statement, Pakistan’s minister for climate change stated that given the projected economic growth trajectory, emissions in Pakistan were expected to increase from 405 metric tons carbon dioxide to more than 1,603 metric tons of CO2 in the next 15 years - that means increasing by almost four times.

And although this will still not make Pakistan a big emitter, especially in comparison to its neighbours India and China, it will still have significant environmental impacts, as well as implications for Pakistan’s position as a country that has historically painted itself as a sufferer of the impacts of climate change, and not a contributor.

From an energy perspective, Pakistan’s development plans do include investment in renewables under the China Pakistan Economic Corridor, such as the $ 1.6 billion hydropower project in Karot, the $ 1.2 billion solar power park in Bahawalpur and the $ 260 million 100-megawatt wind farm in Jhimpir.

Between 1994 and 2015, the country’s carbon emissions grew 123 percent.

However, these are dwarfed by the huge investments in coal energy at the same time. As a country with a growing population, which faces an energy crisis, the government is justified in investing in energy, but at what future cost?

Recent reports also suggest that the price per unit of renewable energy in Pakistan is much higher than that of its neighbours, despite being tax free.

There are also a number of other hurdles, such as Pakistan’s rapid urbanization - more than half of the country will be living in urban areas by 2025, according to UN estimates. Karachi, the port city, is already the 7th largest megacity in the world.

Not only do urban areas consume a lot of energy, they are also responsible for producing the most emissions - UNHABITAT put the total emissions from carbon from cities at 60 percent, while putting the global consumption at 78 percent. 

While Pakistan surges forward with its economic development plans, which is not only encouraging but much needed, it has two options: either to continue in its current role as a vulnerable country, and position itself through its policies as such, or to think 20 years into the future, when it will have a larger economy and a larger population, and create a balance in its policies between curbing emissions growth and adaptation needs.

Given the frequency and rate at which climate change is impacting Pakistan, it will always be a vulnerable country. However, experts are optimistic about Pakistan catching up to its neighbours, India and China, in terms of economic development, albeit with external assistance.

This also means that emissions are set to rise, and Pakistan’s current planning and policies are not fully addressing the implications this may have. 

This Author

Anam manages the media research projects of Climate Tracker, and has been investigating climate reporting in over 20 countries on three continents in countless languages. This article is part of a collaboration between Carbon Tracker and The Ecologist. 


The Ecologist has a formidable reputation built on fifty years of investigative journalism and compelling commentary from writers across the world. Now, as we face the compound crises of climate breakdown, biodiversity collapse and social injustice, the need for rigorous, trusted and ethical journalism has never been greater. This is the moment to consolidate, connect and rise to meet the challenges of our changing world. The Ecologist is owned and published by the Resurgence Trust. Support The Resurgence Trust from as little as £1. Thank you. Donate here